I love sunrises. The magic of seeing a new day emerge with all its promise. Watching the stars fade as the sky lightens, changing colours from moment to moment. The long wait until the first glimpse of the sun appears. Small wonder that the sun became an object of worship in so many different cultures.
So when the chance to see the sun rise over the dunes of the Sahara in Morocco, there was no stopping me. This was an unmissable part of the adventure.
There have been other memorable sunrises. A few weeks previously Galway Bay was a surprise, when we woke to clear skies after a drizzly, windy evening. Most of the other sunrises on the trip were observed in part, and from a hotel window. We were on Prague station at dawn, but weren’t facing east.
I have seen the sun rise over Sydney at the end of a less than exciting Pacific cruise. In my childhood there were many sunrises over Whale Beach during holidays. And, at fresher camp between school and Uni, I stayed up all night to watch the sun rise, bewildered by the sophistication and politics of the older students.
My most memorable sunrise was about eight years ago, in the West MacDonnell ranges, near Alice Springs. I was walking part of the Larapinta Trail, my first experience of Central Australia. We rose at 2 am and climbed Mt Sonder by the light of the full moon to watch the moon set as the sun rose. It was the end of a week of hot, hard walking, but I remember watching in silence, amazed by the spectacle, and wondering what the “rich people” were doing. How could a five star hotel compare with this? Although less than a decade ago, there was no Facebook, no mobile phones or iPads, just a new digital camera on which I took a few shots.
In ways the Moroccan sunrise was similar. It was the end of a journey. We got up in the dark and dressed by torchlight. Without the full moon we saw myriads of stars, an impossible sight in modern cities. But the camel ride was short, and although scaling the sand dune was difficult in shoes, there were no hours of pre-dawn exertion as in Central Australia. Instead of hard rock, we sat on a rug on the sand, as the camel driver silently moved behind us to say his prayers in response to the distant call of the muezzins.
There was still the magic of the changing colours of the sky, the gradual appearance of other camels and people on neighbouring dunes, and the scattered tents and dwellings below. We had a long wait for the sun, but finally its gold rim appeared. Just as it has every day for millennia. But although I saw much of it first hand, I also took photos, and found myself thinking about what I would post to Facebook. Experiencing the new day had changed. I have always been scathing of those who take photos rather than retain an intimate connection to events and scenery. But I had become one. I wanted to share my experience – partly so that friends could see what they were missing, but also with an element of “look at me.”
Then the driver offer to take a photo of us before the sun had risen completely, so I missed the moment when the last tip of the orb rose above the horizon, for me almost as magic as the first glimpse. So not only had I cheated myself by not being fully present in the experience, it was curtailed by the camel driver.
Who is to say which experience is better – the one observed in solitude, or the one one wants to share. Only I had the feeling of the cold wind on my back, the absolute silence apart from the slow plodding feet of the camels. Only I can remember the time which elapsed as I waited expectantly. But I wonder if I will ever experience a sunrise in the simple, pre-Facebook way agin.